Archives for February 2017

The Best Lessons Learned in Instructional Design

I’ve worked in government my whole career and learned long ago that if I was to do anything, it would always be on a tight budget. Based on my work experiences, in 2003 I wrote my master’s thesis about, and then in 2005 published a book titled, eLearning Solutions on a Shoestring. As we all moved from products like Authorware to PowerPoint and other slide-based tools, I wrote Better Than Bullet Points, now in its second edition. (Editor’s note: If you buy this book used, be sure that what you are buying is the second edition. We have heard that some vendors are selling and shipping the first edition. The link above will take you to the correct listing on Amazon.)

So, when The eLearning Guild approached me about presenting at a recent Spotlight session citing the breadth of my work over the years, it gave me a nice chance to revisit some of the things from way back. And I found that, while tools have come and gone, with possibilities beyond what I could even imagine, some things really haven’t changed.

Don’t overdesign

One of the reasons we ever got interested in eLearning was its promise of just-in-time training. Alas, over the years for many of us, development of even simple products has become anything but that. I have seen people struggle with design elements like decorative art, interactions like complicated games that are really just tarted-up multiple-choice questions, and creating and running video when a still photo would do. Be careful of working too long to create a perfect, elegant product instead of a quicker working solution. And keep your eye on the job-performance ball: The punchline to one of my favorite “eLearning on a shoestring” stories is that Duke Medical School, upon finding that physicians had become so dependent on technology that they could no longer just use stethoscopes, did some retraining via simple audio files deployed on iPods.

Remember: For most things, good eLearning is about design, not software

What makes eLearning boring? The same things that make classroom training boring: Someone reading content. Too much extraneous content. Content not relevant to the worker. No opportunities to think and engage with content.

One way to make it less boring: Show that you are attending to the learner’s reality. My husband, who is sometimes pulled to help at the front sales counter at his job, tells the story of a mandatory customer service video. It was clearly an expensive, polished product with high-end production value—that offered completely unrealistic scenarios. It was obvious the designer knew nothing about the worker’s daily experience. (Big tip-off: The customers in the video always had exact change.) A lower-end product with more credible content could have provided a better learning experience.

Always ask: Is there another way?

I’ve written before about the problem of trainers who complain that learners want to be spoon-fed but won’t let them hold the spoon. Look at how you can design to get learners thinking rather than letting content just wash over them. And realize this may not take complex interactions. See “Let the Learners Hold the Spoon” to see how simple changes to a single slide can move the learning experience from content-pushing to knowledge-pulling.

Remember: Content is abundant

This is a quote from our friend Thiagi, who reminds us that every time we set out to work on new “content,” the odds are it already exists. Learn to use what’s out there. Online quiz? Ask for permission to adapt and use it. YouTube video? Assign people to watch it and comment either on the video itself, or back on your discussion board, or on your SharePoint blog. Lots of text-based material? Turn it into a learning game. Spend some time looking around for inspiration. Google things related to the topic you’re working on. Try “Mine safety eLearning” or “Online course mine safety” or “mine safety training preview.” Odds are someone has found an unusually interesting take on that. Keep up with the weekly Articulate eLearning Heroes Challenges. If you can get to some live conferences, The eLearning Guild’s events set aside an evening for attendees to present examples of their work. Next up is DemoFest at Learning Solutions in March. And once you’ve seen something you like, ask: “How’d they do that? Can I do that? Can I do it with next-to-no money?”

Those of you who’ve been around a while, think back to what we wanted eLearning to be

Quick, easy to access, just-in-time, just-for-me, in bites both palatable and useful for workers. Get back to those roots, and you’ll find working on a shoestring doesn’t have to mean creating inferior products.



Make Performance Reviews Effective Again

Performance reviews are a way to evaluate an employee’s performance over a specified period of time. They are also often used to determine year-end bonuses, raises and promotions. Because of this, they can be tricky to do correctly and efficiently, but here are six tips that human resources professionals can use to help guide the review process at their organization and help make this year’s performance reviews the most effective ones yet.

Structure employee reviews to be as effective as possible at your organization.

  • Get rid of “annual.” When a manager waits to give feedback to an employee annually they are jeopardizing both the business and employee’s growth. While a meeting to reflect on the year at a high level can help pinpoint overarching areas for improvement, performance reviews shouldn’t be the only time employees hear direct feedback on their work. Human resources professionals should ensure managers meet with their direct reports at least twice a month for the strongest employee-manager relationships. That way feedback is given regularly and the employee is less likely to be shocked or get defensive when hearing it during a review.
  • Get personal. The way someone feels personally oftentimes determines their performance. If someone is going through something in their personal life, their work performance may suffer, but managers and human resources professionals won’t know when someone is dealing with something outside of work unless they ask…but they have to invest time in building that personal rapport before doing so. An easy way to build a personal relationship with employees is to ensure managers have frequent one on one meetings with them.

The same is true for performance reviews, start on a personal note to help them feel comfortable before diving into the review. Many employees dread performance reviews, so asking questions about their family, friends, or what they did over the weekend, will help put them at ease so the rest of the review can go as smoothly as possible. Also, getting a perspective on their personal life can provide context and an understanding about any performance gaps.

  • Role play with managers so they feel comfortable delivering feedback and are prepared for handling various employee reactions. Part of the reason performance reviews are tricky is because they can be emotional; employees may get defensive when they feel they are being attacked or criticized (even though this is never the intent). This is why making sure feedback is delivered in a way that is encouraging and not attacking is key, so it’s important human resources professionals practice delivering feedback with managers beforehand.
  • Ask the right questions. Some performance review questions are better than others. For example, asking an employee what they want to accomplish in the coming year is a fine question, but what makes it even more powerful and effective is asking employees to provide concrete steps they will take to reach future goals. Or, instead of just asking an employee where they think their biggest areas for improvement are, ask them why they think those areas are important and why improving will help their team or the company. The point is to get employees to think critically about their goals and professional development, and have actionable takeaways and steps they can use once they leave their review.
  • Put the onus on the employee. Managers and human resource professionals should not be doing all the preparation and follow-up for a review. Employees should come with specific examples of successes and failures. Send employees a high-level agenda of what you’d like to discuss and have them prepare the documents and materials for it. Then, have employees write a recap of the meeting so that managers and human resources can see if there are any discrepancies between what the employee took away and what the manager wanted them to take away from the meeting.
  • Keep good records of past employee reviews and revisit them throughout the year. Keeping detailed notes of employee performance can help managers and human resources spot any trends and make more informed decisions regarding talent management. Follow-up on the areas that were talked about during the review to see what steps have been taken to improve and get a pulse on how the employee is feeling about their career and position at the company.

Performance reviews have taken many different forms lately, with some companies doing away with them entirely and others doing them more informally. What works for one company doesn’t necessarily work for all, but these six tips will help structure reviews so they can be as effective as possible at your organization.


AUTHOR: Sirmara Campbell Twohill is the chief human resources officer at Chicago-based LaSalle Network.


Reprinted from WORKFORCE




Optimize Workforce Performance with Blended Learning

As a former CIO, and as someone who has been in information technology my whole career, I have come to appreciate the importance of having the right people, with the right skills and experience, in the right jobs. Particularly, when it comes to the development of systems or implementation of major programs, it is imperative to have a skilled and experienced leadership team. When I review programs, I always insist on meeting and being briefed by the program manager and his or her senior team—you can tell in an hour review whether the team has the requisite skills to handle the rigors of delivering successfully.

Yet many organizations struggle to find or even develop the skills of their staff. Typically, the answer is to provide training, and many organizations are turning to self-paced e-learning modules as the fastest, most cost-efficient answer. Yet, all too often, and eventually to a leader’s dismay, failures happen due to the lack of skills and experience with key staff. While e-learning can be valuable, it alone will rarely provide the requisite development of needed skills, particularly when individuals need to work in a team environment. To address this issue, organizations need to develop training and developmental approaches that optimize workforce performance through various means that synergistically support each other. Such an approach is the essence of what is called “blended learning.”

What Is Blended Learning?

According to the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, blended learning melds traditional classroom-based learning with virtual and technology-based learning opportunities, giving students some control over the time, place, path, or pace of learning ( The result is an adaptive, personalized learning experience that facilitates maximum understanding of knowledge, and the ability to apply that knowledge to real-world problems.

  • Foundational Knowledge: Essential knowledge and skills can be easily delivered through books, e-learning, Webinars, videos, Websites, blogs, white papers, solution briefs, etc.
  • Instructor-Led Training in the Classroom: Second-tier learning of complex concepts is best delivered in an interactive in-person or virtual classroom environment. Expert instructors provide in-depth training of advanced topics and foster learning through discussion and participation among class members.
  • Hands-On Exercises: Students are encouraged to practice new skills and knowledge in the classroom and via an online sandbox environment, where they’re free to practice and experiment with their new skills when and where they choose, and at their own pace.
  • Activation Training: With expert guidance and hands-on assistance, students apply their newly gained skills to their current work to receive actual project artifacts for their specific program in a “safe” environment such as a Project Acceleration and Implementation Workshop.
  • Mentorship and Coaching: Learning doesn’t stop when formal training is over. Students should leverage resources, such as subject matter experts and advisors, in order to find the best way to apply new skills and knowledge on the job.
  • Optimized Performance: Students apply their newly honed skills and knowledge daily on the job, maximizing performance in their organizations and contributing to an optimized workforce.

The Defining Aspects of Blended Learning

  • Learning must include an element of instructor-led learning, either in a brick-and-mortar or a virtual interactive classroom environment.
  • Technology is introduced to the learning environment in a way that gives students some control of time, place, path, and/or pace of learning.

The Advantages of Blended Learning

  • The learner is in the driver’s seat. When students are given control of some aspects of training, they are free to choose what best suits their needs, which makes for a more effective learning environment.
  • Different learning approaches address different needs. Because blended learning combines varied delivery methods, students are free to learn the way that works for them.
  • Learning is focused on high-order “doing” skills (creating, evaluating, analyzing, and applying) over low-order “thinking” skills (understanding and remembering). Hands-on learning, facilitated through technology, ensures learners can apply their new knowledge to their specific environment.

Transforming Your Training Culture With Blended Learning

Because blended learning combines training from expert instructors with hands-on experience, this learning method is a must for adult professionals looking to learn and apply new skills back at the office. It is an effective way to maximize learning so that new knowledge and skills can easily be applied to real-world problems on the job. For companies that implement this training method in their organization, this translates into:

  • Engaged team members who are ready to apply new skills on the job.
  • Heightened institutional knowledge that can be shared throughout the workforce.
  • Increased ROI on each training dollar spent.
  • Confident employees who are invested in the company’s goals—because the company made the effort to invest in their careers and personal growth.

A Case Study

Recently, a major health-care provider turned to my organization to support it in developing a blended learning approach for its software development teams. New team members were directed to use e-learning modules to develop skills on programming languages, yet these team members struggled with applying these skills in a real-world development environment.

By augmenting their learning with instructor-led, exercise-based training, together with the offer of after-training instructor coaching, new developers are able to rapidly learn and be productive for this health-care provider. A small additional investment in the individual is paying significant dividends to the firm in both increased productivity and employee morale.

Here is some of the feedback we received:

“Thank you for giving us this training. The instructor was great and made it easy to apply our new skills.”

“It was great gaining practical experience on how to use what we’ve learned directly in our work.”

“The hands-on exercises were very effective. I liked how some exercises were completed as an individual and some in groups.”

“The material is great. I learned a lot of new terms and processes.”

In almost all learning, the ability to interact and problem solve with a subject matter expert can be invaluable—there is no substitute for that one-on-one interaction to help transfer knowledge and experience.

4 Effective Tactics to Maximize Your Return on Training

  1. Request value-add from your training partner to help the knowledge and skills transfer beyond one course or event, such as coaching or an acceleration workshop.
  2. Secure stakeholder commitment if process or culture change is required to make the training stick.
  3. Centralize purchasing efforts between departments or agencies for better cost-efficient solutions.
  4. Consider combining internal and external efforts to maximize performance using blended learning solutions.


AUTHOR: Richard A. Spires is currently CEO at Learning Tree International, and former CIO at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service. Connect with him: @raspires or via LinkedIn





Five Keys to Building an Innovative Culture

After nearly 25 years of experience working in an innovative high-tech company, I’ve heard, experienced and talked about the critical elements needed to build an innovative culture numerous times. Innovation isn’t something that just happens; it’s a mindset and a business outcome that requires a commitment from both management and employees.

Here are the five keys to building an innovative culture.

It all starts with risk. Risk aversion is the key reason employees don’t innovate. Employees who are afraid to take a risk and fear consequences of failure will maintain the status quo and resist change. Encouraging, rewarding and enabling risk-taking is essential for innovation to happen. Learn from mistakes and make those lessons impactful. Share internal stories of both success and failure. Showcase risk taking and the positive impact it has on the business. Celebrate employees who take risks and challenge the status quo.

Leaders typically inhibit innovation. I haven’t yet met an engineer who doesn’t want to innovate. Effective leaders need to model an innovative mindset, thinking and behavior. If leaders don’t generate new ideas, challenge complacency and initiate change, then innovation stalls. If leaders don’t innovate, neither will their employees. Employees see what leaders do and they follow their behavior.

Saying no is easier than saying yes. Saying yes means accepting new ideas. Saying no means I like it the way it is and I don’t want to do any additional work. Change takes time, effort and energy. Saying yes enables innovation. Managers who say yes are catalysts of innovation. Don’t think about all the reasons why something can’t be done differently — say yes and do it.

Getting it done is often better than getting it right. Life is in beta. We are living in a time when the next version is just around the corner. There’s a 2.0 on the verge of being released. Leaders who wait for everything to be perfect before launching or executing are inhibiting innovation. Launch then learn. Iterate. Release the next version. Don’t wait for perfection; just get it done. There is time for continuous and disruptive innovation, but it has to start somewhere.

Embedding innovation into the culture and consistently communicating about it is the only way to sustain it. Management, employees, customers, suppliers, everyone in the company ecosystem has to drive innovation and communicate about it. An organization culture is built through norms, behaviors, attitudes and values — ensure innovation is a common thread that runs throughout the company. Initiate it, encourage it, reward it and celebrate it.

AUTHOR:  Tamar Elkeles is the chief talent executive at Atlantic Bridge Capital.

Reprinted from Talent Economy

How to Identify Truly Exceptional Talent

There’s a great story about Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s pianist and collaborator that tells us something about truly exceptional talent. Strayhorn met Ellington in 1938 at age 23 following one of his concerts in Pittsburgh.

Ellington sat Strayhorn down at the piano and challenged him to do his thing. He was clearly impressed with Strayhorn’s artistry, but he already had a piano player. Still, he invited Strayhorn to visit him in Harlem, even giving him subway directions on how to get to his apartment. You can guess the result. Strayhorn turned the directions into “Take the A Train,” the Ellington band’s signature and a permanent fixture in the Great American Songbook.

Strayhorn was a young, exceptional talent in the same way Lin-Manuel Miranda — “Hamilton” — is today. But preternatural talent is not confined to the arts. Elon Musk — Tesla/SpaceX — developed computer code for a video game at age 12. At 24 he turned over his first company to Compaq for $300 million. Evan Williams — Twitter — “invented” blogging while still in his 20s.

What is interesting for those of us in organizational life is that we don’t separate the exceptional from the high potential. We put them in the same talent bucket. Unfortunately, most succession planning tools such as the nine box fail to differentiate the “A+” from the “A” or “B” player, and our learning programs assume wrongly that the truly brilliant should be singularly educated on leadership techniques versus technical, market or entrepreneurial skills.

Yet, we know that exceptional talent is poised to make exceptional contributions. Like the free agent who helps a sports franchise make the leap from second best to world champion, or the “10x” programmer whose architecture disrupts an entire industry, they are worth a disproportionate investment in time and money.

What makes them different? They share a few traits:

Extraordinary ambition: Extraordinary ambition is not just what separates the best from the rest, it drives high profile talent to leave one seemingly satisfying job for another. Money may make the world go ‘round but stories of top talent leaving for salary increases are dwarfed by instances of them leaving for huge challenges — opportunities to leave a legacy, to run something bigger, bring a new idea to market or make a contribution that redefines an industry.

The software industry entrepreneur Ray Ozzie is a classic example. Ozzie moved from Data General, to IBM/Lotus to Microsoft to the startup Talko — each time for a bigger challenge. Exceptional talent in the millennial generation is even more impatient than the tech icons of Ozzie’s era. So much so that among Inc. magazine’s “30 under 30” coolest entrepreneurs, none began their careers at big companies.

Exceptional competency: Competency is a word commonly used to describe extraordinary employees’ capabilities. However, what we know about competencies for exceptional talent is a little confusing. On one hand, they may have the most highly evolved technical skills of anyone in their profession, yet in some cases are missing other competencies — EQ, for example — that are essential to high performance, or, vice versa. Consider Steve Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak, both were visionaries yet each lacked competencies that would have made one a more well-rounded leader and the other a more influential technical contributor.

Versatility: Exceptional talent is versatile in ways that many high potentials are not. These individuals can quickly pick up specific language, culture and desires from their key stakeholders. And they are typically dilettantes in other functions, surprising peers with their knowledge across multiple domains. Top technology leaders, for instance, could segue from deep technical conversations with R&D fellows to actionable, strategic decisions with business leaders without missing a beat — and they’re comfortable doing so.

What can talent leaders do with these extraordinary talents? At the very least, identify them early, coach them and actively manage their careers. However, an intriguing new way to develop them is through talent incubators, which follow the same approach as incubators that nurture innovation ideas. Talent incubators cast a broad net, then incubate the most promising talent with a test-and-learn strategy that parses out roles and assignments to help gauge interest and fit for strategic roles across a company. Add assessment and coaching to promote reflection, and release them into the organization with opportunities that exceed the normal maturation curve.

To accelerate exceptional talent growth requires an individualized approach. Putting them in the same category as other high potentials may be convenient, but it is unlikely to produce a windfall ROI or give visibility to the next home grown genius.

AUTHOR: John Hendrickson is a partner at Cambria Consulting, Inc.

Reprinted from CLO


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